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January, 2013

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

January, 2013

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Initiative Celebrates Industry-Academia Collaboration

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    Snow fell across the United Kingdom on January 18, 2013, but it was not about to deter some of Microsoft Research’s leading visionaries from making their way from the brand new Cambridge lab down to University College London (UCL). They headed to UCL for a special day that would commemorate the deep and long lasting intellectual ties between the two organizations by unveiling a new initiative: beginning this year, Microsoft Research Connections will annually co-sponsor four PhD scholarships at UCL.

    UCL students and Microsoft Research visitors at DemoFest
    UCL students and Microsoft Research visitors at DemoFest

    These new scholarships will promote collaborative projects between UCL and Microsoft Research—and build on a history of collaboration in computer and computational sciences, including such major joint projects as 2020 Science, with Professor Peter Coveney, and Resource Reasoning, led by Professor Peter O’Hearn. Although UCL is one of England’s oldest universities, it is also one of the most forward-looking, as is evident in the innovative work of its students, researchers, and faculty.

    University College LondonThe scholarships form part of Microsoft Research Connections’ PhD Scholarship Programme in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), which has supported more than 200 doctoral students since its inception in 2004. The highly competitive program supports PhD scholars at research institutions across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa in research areas ranging from core computing to biological and social sciences. Recipients receive half of their funding from Microsoft with matching funds from the university. As with all scholarships provided by the PhD Scholarship Programme, the UCL recipients will receive a three-year bursary and invitations to the Microsoft Research annual PhD Summer School in Cambridge, where they will learn about Microsoft Research Cambridge research projects, acquire key transferable skills, and share ideas with Microsoft researchers. All students are supervised by a university faculty member and co-supervised by a Microsoft researcher “champion.” In addition, some students may also be offered an internship at Microsoft Research.

    Andrew Blake, the laboratory director of Microsoft Research Cambridge, described PhD students as essential to research. He praised their willingness to try out new research projects and observed that “Working with them increases our ability to explore new ideas and contributes to the sustainability of the research lab.”

    Rick Rashid, the chief research officer of Microsoft Research, began the day with an inspiring talk on “Microsoft Research and the Evolution of Computing,” during which he described the growth of Microsoft Research over the past 20 years, regaling the audience with stories of how he has worked with product teams on all manner of projects—some of which have had a huge impact on users across the world. He then fielded questions from students and staff on topics ranging from Microsoft’s strategies on open source, to which developments in the pipeline at Microsoft are the most exciting, to how to manage research successfully.

    UCL scholarship winners—from left to right: Jan Kautz, Sebastian Riedel, Rick Rashid, Jade Alglave, and UCL Vice-Provost of Research David Price. (One recipient, Benny Chain, was missing.)From left to right: UCL scholarship winners Jan Kautz and Sebastian Riedel, Microsoft Research Chief Research Officer Rick Rashid, UCL scholarship winner Jade Alglave, and UCL Vice-Provost of Research David Price (UCL scholarship winner Benny Chain not pictured)

    At the end of his talk, Rick announced the four recipients of PhD scholarship funding and their selected projects:

    • Jade Alglave, Lecturer in the Programming Principles, Logic and Verification Group
      Weakness as a virtue
      (Microsoft Research Cambridge co-supervisor: Byron Cook)
    • Benny Chain, Professor of Immunology
      Experimental and computational studies on the human antigen-specific T-cell repertoire
      (Microsoft Research Cambridge co-supervisors: Neil Dalchau and Andrew Phillips)
    • Jan Kautz, Professor in the Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics Group
      3D Reconstruction of live scenes using multiple heterogeneous mobile depth cameras
      (Microsoft Research Cambridge supervisors: Shahram Izadi, Pushmeet Kohli, and Otmar Hilliges)
    • Sebastian Riedel, Lecturer in the Intelligent Systems Group
      Probabilistic databases of multimodal and universal schema
      (Microsoft Research Cambridge supervisor: Thore Graepel)

    The "Auto-Icon" memorializes Jeremy Bentham, UCL FounderA “DemoFest” was held after lunch under the watchful eye of “inspirational or spiritual” founder of UCL, Jeremy Bentham, whose preserved skeleton and wax head likeness, known as the “Auto-Icon,” sit in a glass case in the Cloisters. Among the living UCL luminaries in attendance were Vice Provost of Research David Price, Dean of Engineering Anthony Finkelstein, Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences Richard Catlow, and several faculty members.

    The atmosphere was buzzing with excitement as researchers in computer and computational sciences showcased their latest work to Rick Rashid and Jeanette Wing, the new head of Microsoft Research International. A spectrum of demos showed the breadth and depth of work at UCL across domains, from distributed multi-scale computing, resilient and fast networking in data centers, and interactive images on the computer science side, to behavior-change technologies for enhancing health, diffusion MRI of the brain, and patient blood-flow simulation for surgical planning on the health and wellness front.

    Alongside the research were teams of proud computer science students, who reveal their inventive spirit through their use of cutting-edge Microsoft technologies—from Windows Azure and Windows 8 Embedded to Windows Phone and F#. They demonstrated some truly inspirational projects, including apps and devices to tackle real-world problems, such as using .NET Gadgeteer and Windows Azure to create a keyhole surgery instructional tool for trainees in pediatric surgery. The brand new Try F# website was presented, with tutorials in financial computing provided by UCL, just a few days ahead of its launch at POPL 2013.

    Collaboration between academia and industry can run deep, and UCL’s research excellence has attracted a number of Microsoft Research’s senior researchers to faculty positions at UCL, including Byron Cook, professor of Computer Science; Stephen Emmott, visiting professor of Intelligent Systems; Shahram Izadi, visiting professor of Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics; and, of course, Andrew Herbert, former head of Microsoft Research Cambridge, who is a visiting professor in Computer Science at UCL.

    The enthusiasm, deep discussion, and display of innovative collaboration between UCL and Microsoft Research on this snowy day in January exemplify the best of how academia and industry can work together to change the world.

    Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA
    Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA
    Nour Shublaq, Strategic Program Manager, UCL Computational Life and Medical Sciences Network

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    Mobile Code Jam Rocks Vegas

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    Top headliners on the Las Vegas strip might include Celine Dion, Penn and Teller, and Carrot Top, but from our perspective, they’ve got nothing on the Vegas premiers of such CCNC Mobile Code Jam stars as BlueWay and Fling-It. That’s right: during the second week of January, the top three submissions for each of the Project Hawaii and TouchDevelop Mobile Code Jam Challenges took the stage in Las Vegas during the 10th Annual IEEE Consumer Communications and Networking Conference (CCNC 2013), demonstrating their innovative applications while collecting prize money and basking in peer recognition.

    The main goal of the two contests was to encourage researchers and, especially, students to advance the field of mobile apps and services. And that they did, with innovative applications that ranged from games to aids for the visually impaired. Here’s the list of the winners:

    Project Hawaii Mobile Code Jam

    • First prize: BlueWay, an indoor multimedia navigation system, by José Fernández Gorroño of the Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Spain. BlueWay uses Bluetooth technology and Project Hawaii cloud services to turn the Windows Phone into an “indoor GPS” that can, for example, direct you from one subway platform to another, so you won’t miss that train home.

    • Second prize: Elves and Arrows, a fantasy game, by George Chen, Edward Lay, and Hui Min Lee of Singapore Management University, Singapore. Elves and Arrows employs gesture-based firing and compass-guided orientation to let your elfin avatar shoot arrows at opponents as you battle online.

    • Third prize: Lens of Reality, a text-reading application, by Muhammad Naveed, Qamber Ali, Madiha Qamar, and Farah Saher of NED University, Pakistan. Lens of Reality is designed to help the world’s 285 million visually impaired people by using the phone’s camera and photo storage capabilities to capture printed text and read it aloud.

     

    TouchDevelop Mobile Code Jam

    • First prize: Fling-It, a game that tests your ability to follow directions, by Robert Hemsley and Dan Sawada of the MIT Media Lab, United States. Fling-It utilizes the accelerometer and gyroscope on the phone, instructing users to execute various gestures, such as face up, face down, swipe right, and so forth. Multiple players can compete against each other, scoring points by following the directions precisely.
    • Second prize: Hungry Rabbit, a game that challenges your hand-eye coordination, by Jeevan Pokhrel and Indira Paudel of the Institut Mines-Telecom, France. The titular rabbit craves carrots, which fall from the top of the screen and must be directed by you to the voracious bunny. Players can compete against each other, with scores published on a leader board.
    • Third prize: RemoteBoard, a collaboration app that enables multiple users to share drawings on a touchscreen, by Yuhuan Du of the University of Texas at Austin, United States. Remote Board utilizes the Project Hawaii Relay Service to exchange data between clients, allowing users to share drawings or illustrations and work collaboratively—and to play tic-tac-toe.

    Congratulations to the winners and to all who entered the Mobile Code Jam. And just because the contests are over doesn’t mean that the fun is finished—not at all. You, too, can harness the power of Project Hawaii to develop Windows Phone apps that access a suite of cloud services, and you can use TouchDevelop to create apps on your tablet or smartphone— without the need for a separate PC. Maybe you can create the mobile app that brings Carrot Top live to your Windows Phone?

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Try F#—Data Console to Big and Broad Data

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    Today, we are excited to announce the latest release of Try F#, a set of resources that makes it easy to learn and program with F# in your browser. It’s available over a wide range of platforms and doesn’t require a download of Microsoft Visual Studio. Try F# quickly reveals the value of the versatile F# programming language.

    Learn how to program in F#. Create and share code with the new release of Try F#

    Try F# enables users to learn F# through new tutorials that focus on solving real-world problems, including analytical programming quandaries of the sort that are encountered in finance and data science. But Try F# is much more than a set of tutorials. It lets users write code in the browser and share it with others on the web to help grow a community of F# developers.

    This latest release of Try F# is an evolution that keeps the tool in synch with the new experiences and information-rich programming features that are available in F# 3.0, the latest version of the language. The tutorials incorporate many domains, and help users understand F#’s new powerful “type providers” for data and service programming in the browser-based experience.

    F# has become an invaluable tool in accessing, integrating, visualizing, and sharing data analytics. Try F# thus has the potential to become the web-based data console for bringing “big and broad data,” including the associated metadata, from thousands of sources (eventually millions) to the fingertips of developers and data scientists. Try F# helps fill the need for robust tools and applications to browse, query, and analyze open and linked data. It promotes the use of open data to stimulate innovation and enable new forms of collaboration and knowledge creation.

    For example, to answer a straightforward question such as, “Is US healthcare cost-effective?” researchers now need to look at several datasets, going back and forth between an integrated development environment (IDE) and webpages to figure out if they’ve found what they need.

    With Try F#, a researcher can quickly and easily access thousands of schematized and strongly-typed datasets. This presents huge opportunities in today’s data-driven world, and we strongly encourage all developers and data scientists to use Try F# to seamlessly discover, access, analyze, and visualize big and broad data.

    Evelyne Viegas, Director of Semantic Computing, Microsoft Research Connections
    Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect, Microsoft Research Connections

     
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